Gratitude in Motion

A True Story of Hope, Determination, and the Everyday Heroes Around Us


By Colleen Kelly Alexander

With Jenna Glatzer

Foreword by Bart Yasso

Formats and Prices




$47.00 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around January 16, 2018. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

It was a beautiful fall day in Connecticut when Colleen Kelly Alexander, a lifelong athlete, rode her bike home from work. She had survived both a diagnosis of lupus and brain surgery, had a fulfilling career, and was married at last to the love of her life. Everything was good as she coasted along, meeting the eyes of a truck driver as he approached the stop sign beside her.

He didn’t stop. The truck hit Colleen, running over her lower body with front and back tires and dragging her across the pavement. As she bled out in the street, nearby strangers surrounded her and the driver attempted to get away. An EMT herself, Colleen knew she had to stay awake. “I’ve just been reconnected with my soulmate,” she told the medic. “We want to have a baby. I can’t die now. Please don’t let me die.”

Five weeks in a coma and twenty-nine surgeries later, Colleen survived. Rather than let the trauma and PTSD control her life, she became determined to find a way to make something positive from her pain. She decided she’d run again and dedicate her race medals to the everyday heroes around us, including the medical staff and blood donors who saved her life. Since then Colleen has run fifty races and completed forty triathlons, including four half-Ironman events. Now a spokesperson for the Red Cross, Colleen shares her incredible inspirational story to encourage others to take that first step forward.



by Bart Yasso

COLLEEN'S STORY TOUCHED ME in a very personal way. I've been commuting to work by bicycle for the past thirty years and have ridden my bike across the United States twice. I understand the vulnerability of cruising along on a bicycle in the midst of speeding cars and distracted drivers—your life can change forever in a split second. What separates Colleen from the rest of us is what she did with her very unfortunate circumstances.

I met Colleen in 2014 at the Gasparilla Distance Classic in Tampa, Florida, when we were both invited to the event as motivational speakers. The night before the big race, we shared our stories to inspire others on their journeys to the finish line the next morning. I was spellbound by Colleen's presentation. I was ready to head out the door and start running the minute she finished her talk. It was because of the way she involved the entire audience and the way she made us all feel very grateful for what we have. Never could I have foreseen the friendship and bond we forged that night and how often our paths would cross.

Colleen's first and only marathon came in September 2014. She and her husband, Sean, stayed at my home the night before the big race. As fate would have it, she had picked a marathon in my hometown, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where the course is only a few miles from my house. When Colleen set off for the starting line of the Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon, I'm assuming with some trepidation, I could see a damaged body, but I sensed that the love between her and Sean would outweigh her physical limitations. Running 26.2 miles is very arduous. Running 26.2 miles in Colleen's condition I can't fathom, and I've run many marathons. I was out on the course cheering on runners, waiting to see Colleen pass. I saw a runner coming down the road hugging everyone in sight—every volunteer, every spectator, and every course marshal—and, yes, of course, this runner turned out to be my dear friend Colleen. I shouted, "Stop hugging everyone! You'd better keep running; the clock is ticking." Colleen has her own clock—it doesn't judge someone by time but by joy. By the smile on her face and the joy she was radiating, based on the Colleen clock she was winning the race. She finished by running into Sean's arms, a warm embrace, a marathon run by one but celebrated by thousands. Their love for each other touched me in a profound way. Colleen's marathon had nothing to do with running; it was 26.2 miles of love, joy, and an acceptance of making the best of what you have.

What I love most about Colleen is that she always thanks everyone who played a role in her survival. She knows firsthand the love and commitment of our first responders and all the health care workers who helped her, all the way down to the generous people who donated blood to keep her alive. She feels a very strong connection with hundreds of people in this journey and she wants to thank them all.

When a race starts, we all follow the same path to the finish line, but we all take very different paths to make it to the starting line. Colleen's path is a journey of survival, gratitude, love, and a boatload of courage to overcome so many obstacles. Colleen has taught me so many life lessons. She literally is gratitude in motion.

Running is the ultimate faith healer, restoring belief not only in oneself but in life's possibilities.



THERE ARE SOME THINGS you learn when you get run over by a freight truck.

It was a beautiful fall day and I had just opened up a great new chapter in my life: I was a thirty-six-year-old newlywed with a fulfilling job where I knew I was making a difference in kids' lives, and my husband and I were doing triathlons together and talking about starting a family. Things were finally going according to plan—and then the plan got set on fire, courtesy of an impatient driver who blew a stop sign.

But you learn.

Mostly, you learn how to be grateful for every tiny thing you probably took for granted before. You spend a lot of time lying down in hospital beds with nothing but your thoughts, and that can go one of two ways: You can drown in your own sorrow (which I did for some time), or you can realize that even with the pain, the permanent disfigurement, the nightmares, and the limitations, life is still not only worthwhile but beautiful.

Don't get me wrong: I would rather have learned that lesson without getting flattened on the street, but that's how it went.

All my life, I'd defined myself as an athlete—a cyclist, mostly, considering that my dad owned a bike shop and I'd practically grown up there learning about bike mechanics. I wasn't even four when I got on my first bike. In my twenties, I'd already had to deal with significant health challenges that affected my competitive abilities. But I could not have pictured the absolute derailment of my life that was to come, and I could not have imagined getting through it and smiling at the end of it all. In the thick of it, there were many days and nights when I wished I had just died on the road rather than endure the constant daily pain and humiliation of a body that could no longer function without machinery and tubes and bags.

What pulled me out of it were the heroes: more than two hundred people who had collaborated to save my life. So many people teamed up just so I could live to see another sunset, take another walk with my dog, plant another garden. The path back to an active life was fraught with difficulties and setbacks, some of which are permanent, but along the way I learned to keep my focus on gratitude and live my life accordingly—not only feeling thankful, but acting on my thankfulness. The more I found ways to give back, the better I felt.

Now I'm ready to share my journey in the hope that you will find value in it. We're all connected in this world, and it's our job to look out for one another. Just as many people have looked out for me, I hope I can now be a light for people who are seeking one. Thank you for reading my story.

Chapter 1

First Love

I FOLDED THE LOOSE-LEAF note meticulously into an origami triangle, the way high school kids in the nineties did. On the outside was his name: Sean. On the inside were the words that might just lead to young romance—or crushing heartbreak:

I've heard lots about you and I thought it would be cool to get to know you…if you want, you can call me tonight at eight.

Would I actually have the nerve to give it to him? That remained to be seen.

Sean walked with his head permanently tilted to the right side because his wavy, sun-kissed brown surfer hair covered his eye otherwise. He was six foot four, with a deep voice and a permanent tan from the Daytona Beach sun. He was a senior and I was a sophomore. I thought he was hot.

He was my friend's older brother, and I hadn't paid much attention to him before mutual friends of ours started buzzing in both our ears about what a good match we'd make. So I started checking him out. Unobtrusively, of course. Before long, I was arriving at school early just to catch a glimpse of his car pulling into the parking lot. He drove a black 1972 Volkswagen Beetle with surf racks on the top and subwoofers in the back. He was so effortlessly cool and yet didn't seem to have any grasp of his effect on girls. There were plenty of us who hoped to catch his eye, but he was more focused on surfing than dating…or much of anything else. I could have gone gray and wrinkled waiting for him to make the first move. He was sweetly oblivious.

What I liked about him, too, was his innocence. Lots of high school guys—especially seniors—were all about partying and getting drunk and having sex in other people's bathrooms. Sean wasn't like that. There was a rumor that he'd lost his virginity but had decided not to have sex again after that…which was attractive to me because I had already committed not to have sex before I was married.

My parents were Southern Baptists, and church was a major part of my life. I was devoted to God mostly out of a fear of mortality—I didn't want to make Him mad and wind up in hell. And there were apparently lots of ways to wind up there, but one of the quickest ways was to have sex before marriage.

I wasn't really sure what Sean's religious beliefs were, but that was pretty far back in my mind at the moment. God wouldn't mind if we just maybe kissed a little, would He?

With that hope in mind, I felt my face go white-hot as I approached Sean with my note in hand, clutched against my chest. We'd never really spoken before, aside from quick hellos. I walked up with all the false confidence I could muster, smiled, and handed it to him. Then I walked away in my acid-washed jeans without saying a word.


My brother Erin and I had just gotten our own phone line, so I sat in my room that night and waited eagerly for its distinctive ring. For effect, I turned on my music much louder than it needed to be just before eight o'clock so that I'd sound cool when I picked up the phone. Living Colour's "Cult of Personality" would really camouflage the sound of girl-sitting-by-the-phone. Right on time, it rang. I waited two rings to pick it up because…you know.


"Hi. Colleen?"

"Oh, yes. Let me just turn down my music."

And so it started. I want to tell you that we had deep talks about the meaning of life, but we really just talked about school and our teachers and the other things high school kids talk about. Then we made plans for our first date at Friendly's.

He picked me up in that Volkswagen Bug that I had admiringly stalked for months. The view from the passenger seat was a little different from what I expected, though…you could actually see the road if you looked down. The floor had rusted-out holes right through the metal.

Depeche Mode was blaring through the subwoofers, and the whole car smelled of Sean's Cool Water cologne. He rolled down the windows, which was a disaster. I had so much hairspray in my well-thought-out hairdo, and wind and hairspray are a terrible combination. My hair had not yet gotten the memo that we were out of the eighties, and it had two natural enemies: water and wind.

Once I was in Sean's car, I had no idea what to say, and apparently neither did he, because we drove along for a good ten to twelve minutes saying absolutely nothing.


I was dumbstruck by insecurities; there was a whole movie's worth of inner monologue happening in my mind as I desperately tried to look cool and unaffected by the wind—not terrified that I would emerge from this vehicle looking like Tammy Faye Bakker. Once a silence gets started, it's very hard to end it. Eventually, as we were crossing a bridge, Sean took the plunge.

"So…do you still want to go to Friendly's?"

"Yeah. Sure."

I smiled nervously. In a non-windblown way.

After we got there, we both eased into real live conversation. We ordered big, sloppy burgers and Cokes and talked about our mutual friends.

"I nicknamed you Colleeny-Bopper," he said. "Because of how you're always bopping down the halls with so much energy and a big smile on your face."

"Well, I don't have a nickname for you yet. But my friend calls you Lurch because you're so tall and have that deep voice."

Maybe it wasn't the most flattering nickname.

He complimented me on my big blue eyes, and there was some banter about his cool hair. I had butterflies the whole time we sat there, and nervous giggles filled the air. When we were done eating, we went to play putt-putt golf.

By the end of the night, not only did I know that Sean was going to be my boyfriend, but he already felt like my best friend, too. We had such a great, playful rapport, and he was so sweet to me. I didn't get the feeling that he was just waiting till the right moment to get me to "park" and rip off my clothes. In fact, he didn't even kiss me that night.

Sean was so respectful of not only me, but my parents, too. He never pushed my curfews or did anything that would cause them to worry. Our relationship was innocent and joyful, consisting of lots of lunch dates to Wendy's and Taco Bell, movies, and trips to the beach.

The first time we went to the beach together, I wore a tankini, but it wasn't the shape of my body that I was nervous about…it was my feet. I buried my toes in the sand as quickly as possible after taking my shoes off, and hoped he wouldn't notice if I kept them buried, like an ostrich avoiding a predator. But he noticed.

"Why are you hiding your feet?"

"My toes," I said. "They're ugly."

"Come on, let me see."


"Do you see these things?" He pointed at his own—okay, yes, odd—toes. "These are called hammertoes. It can't be worse than that."

"Yes, it can. My friends always make fun of me. My feet are too big in general, but my second toes are really long."

"Well, now you have to show me."

Peer pressure.

I showed him. And he didn't make fun of me. Yet.

"There's nothing wrong with your feet! Those are the coolest toes I've ever seen!"

We did get to a point where we gleefully made fun of each other's quirks and flaws, but he was so good about being sensitive and building me up so that I'd always feel safe with him. It was a wonderful feeling. It was also ridiculous that he liked my giant toes.

Surfing was a huge part of his life, and he tried to teach me, but I was terrified. A few times, I paddled out with him and sat on a surfboard, but only once did I manage to stand upright. The rest of the time I mostly spent fantasizing about when I would be allowed to paddle back to shore. I didn't like the feeling of not being able to see land, or of waiting for a wave and hoping I'd get my balance right in time.

So after that, I would just sit on the beach and watch him, and then we'd go out for greasy food afterward. I was a serious athlete, primarily a cyclist, but I could still down cheese fries with the best of them.

Every Sunday, I went to church with my family, and Sean came with us a few times. Sometimes he also went to church with his parents. They were Episcopalian, which was much different from being Baptist. Episcopalians were barely Christians at all, in my pastor's mind. It was a much more liberal religion.

When Sean once again didn't go to church one Sunday, I asked him why.

"The ocean is my church," he said. "When I want to be spiritual and connect, that's where I go."

I sort of understood. But I sort of didn't.

He asked me to prom, which was a big deal for a sophomore. I borrowed a black dress I'd admired from my oldest brother Shawn's wife, Kaori, and my dad told us to be back by eleven. It wasn't much time on a prom night, but we knew he meant business. Whenever my curfew neared, my dad would wait near the door and flick the lights on as we approached to let us know he was watching.

Sean and I took pictures at his parents' house and then in a garden where we had often taken walks before, then headed to the Daytona Beach Desert Inn with friends and danced for hours. It marked the end of his high school years; I still had two more to go, and I wondered how that would affect us. Lots of couples broke up when someone went to college, but it didn't seem like we would.

The night before my birthday that August, Sean plotted a surprise for me with my parents: He sneaked in after I fell asleep and put a vase of flowers and teddy bear wearing a cameo necklace in my bathroom, along with a tape player hooked up to the outlet. It was rigged so that the play button was already pressed, but the power wouldn't turn on until someone (me, hopefully) turned on the light. When I did, it played our song: "I'll Be There" by Escape Club. He'd bought a single of the cassette.

It was the most romantic thing anyone had ever done for me, and I was amazed that my parents let him do it. I still have the cassette.

Sean wasn't exactly my first boyfriend; I'd been out on dates with lots of guys before, but this was the first relationship that lasted more than a couple of weeks. It was exciting to me, filled with all the heady feelings of first love. We had never actually used that word, but I had thought it plenty.

My youth minister and his wife noticed how head-over-heels I seemed to be, and when they asked how the relationship was going, I even confided that I felt like I might be falling in love. It wasn't received the way I thought it would be.

"Do you know if he's saved?" my youth minister asked.

"I don't know," I said. "Maybe. He goes to church sometimes."

"Have you witnessed to him yet?"

I looked down.

"Colleen, if you haven't, you need to. If he's not saved, then you have the responsibility to tell him about Jesus. Otherwise he could go to hell."

"I just try to live my life as a Christian and be a good example."

"But that's not enough. This relationship can't work right now because you're unequally yoked. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 6:14, 'Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?' You have nothing in common with Sean. If you're choosing to be yoked with someone who isn't saved, then you're in sin."

I stood there listening, a knot forming in my stomach. What was he telling me? My relationship with Sean was sinful?

"You have to put God first in your life," he said.

It was a small town; the youth minister knew that Sean's family wasn't very religious. And although every word he said to me hurt, I felt that he was looking out for me as he always had. He and his wife had become a big part of my life and my thoughts during my adolescence; he looked for ways for all of us in the youth group to deepen our relationship with God and be better Christians. He wasn't telling me this because he wanted to ruin my life—it was because he cared about me and didn't want to see me make a big mistake. Their convictions were strong.

It was just so different from the way I thought, though. I told him I'd pray and think about it, and then as soon as I got home, I couldn't stop crying. Had I been letting Sean down all this time by not proselytizing to him? I had never been comfortable with evangelism, but was I being a terrible friend by not helping to save his soul? What if the minister was right and I was throwing away the only opportunity to help Sean get into heaven?

I'd told the minister I didn't know whether Sean was saved, but deep down I knew he wasn't saved like I was in the Baptist Church. I'd just never asked because I didn't want to hear the answer. While he supported me as a Christian, religion wasn't a big part of his life, and I couldn't imagine telling him that he needed to devote his life to Jesus if he wanted to continue dating me.

All that night, I prayed and cried, cried and prayed. It was torture. I knew that I was going to have to break up with Sean to prove my devotion to God, but it made such little sense to me. Our relationship had been so pure, not lustful. How could it be sinful to fall in love?

When I finally emerged from my room, my parents were waiting on the living room couch to talk to me.

"I think I have to break up with Sean," I told them. "I don't think he's saved."

The tears wouldn't stop streaming, and my parents were very supportive.

"We're proud of you for taking a stand for Jesus," my dad said. My mom gave me a hug and told me I was doing the right thing. I hoped she was right.

The next time Sean came over, I met him at the door and fell into his arms crying.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"We have to break up," I managed to get out in between sobs.


I couldn't answer. Nothing I said would make sense. I tried and tried to say something—anything—to give him an explanation, but I just couldn't get any words out.

"Are you sure this is what you want? Because you're crying right now…" he said.

I just nodded. He was so confused—but then, so was I. After several minutes, he let go of our embrace and left, and I was empty. He left there assuming that I was breaking up with him because he was going to college and I was still in high school. I didn't say, "Let's stay friends," because it would just be too painful to see him anymore if I couldn't be with him. I didn't think I would ever stop crying.

"Do you feel better?" my mother asked the next day.

"No," I said. "Everything hurts." My mom hugged me.

It continued to hurt like that for weeks. My friends, who had understood and accepted my other Christian "quirks" before, thought I was crazy for breaking up with him. It was the hardest thing I'd ever done, but I had to be right with my God. I had to trust in His plan for my life.

The new school year started and I never saw Sean's Volkswagen Beetle pull into that parking lot again. We'd never ditch the cafeteria or see Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves or walk through that beautiful garden again. I'd never stand on a higher step to kiss him so I could reach his lips. It was over.

And I really wasn't okay.

Chapter 2

Someone Else's Life

EVEN THOUGH SEAN STAYED local for college, I never ran into him. But my brother Erin did on their Daytona Beach college campus. Erin would come home and say, "Sean asked about you," and it was bittersweet—nice to know he cared, but still painful. It felt like we were star-crossed.

Erin and I were close and he knew my reasons for ending the relationship. I think he was as confused as I was about the whole thing—we both understood that this was what I was supposed to do, but it didn't feel right to either of us.

I trusted my brother deeply; he had saved my life when my inner tube flipped over and I nearly drowned in a pool at age five. I still remember looking up and seeing his shadowy, skinny body over me as I choked and spluttered out all the chlorinated water from my lungs. He had been my first hero. I didn't know then that there would be others.

That fall, I tried to go about my normal life and move on. It was a busy year of exploration—I was heavily involved with sports and activities: choir, band, marching corps, flag corps, debate club, Fellowship of Christian Athletes (I was the vice president), Thespian Society, along with my church and youth group. Basically, if there was a club around that didn't involve doing math or playing Dungeons & Dragons, I was in it.

My senior year was not particularly memorable except that I met Jesse, a missionary boy whom my parents and youth leaders instantly approved of. He was three years older than I was and was beginning a career as a pilot. He asked to take me to my prom and I thought he must be the one. All the ducks were in a row: He was a Christian who was going to have a good career, I thought he was attractive, we both agreed on no premarital sex, all the important adults in my life gave their approval…I was not wildly in love with him, but maybe that didn't matter. It was supposed to be God's plan, not mine.

When Jesse proposed to me, I was nineteen years old and had just finished my first year at community college. Part of me was mad because now I had to say yes. It took away the possibility of feeling anything stronger for anyone. But I told myself that I was ready. Lots of other young women in my church married young and were starting families. It was not normal among my non-church friends, who thought I was crazy. They came to my wedding wearing pained expressions, sitting in the pews singing along to church hymns while hung over from partying at college.

My gown was a huge, ornate thing with sequins and pearls and a long train. Our wedding planner was a young woman from church who had also gotten married at nineteen. She helped me pick out my all-silk flowers and candles and hunter-green velvet ball gowns for my eight bridesmaids.

Alcohol and dancing were both frowned upon at weddings according to the church, so we didn't have either of those. We did have a harpist, and my parents and the church elders made all the food for the reception. It was very churchy and kind of boring.

Then came the wedding night.

I was terrified about getting pregnant, and our first experience together was painful.

I have to do this again? I fretted after it was over.

Reality set in quickly after the wedding. In order for Jesse to fly commercially, he had to log a lot more hours in flight, and he had to pay for those hours of training. I dropped out of school and worked two, sometimes three, jobs at a time to support us. I didn't even think about finishing my college degree or chasing some kind of dream job because I understood my role was to support my husband. Anything else would be selfish.


  • Colleen is a personal inspiration of mine. Her guts, grit and determination alone are enough to embolden anyone who hears her speak. But it is Colleen's great humanity and humility in the face of her challenges that should inspire us all.—Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize laureate
  • "I always said running is the ultimate faith healer, restoring belief not only in oneself but life's possibilities. Colleen brought that message to life and had me thinking of my own possibilities. Colleen's message isn't about how far we can run but how much we can endure just to be part of the running community."—Bart Yasso, Retired Chief Running Officer of Runner's World
  • Colleen Kelly Alexander is a living embodiment of resiliency, grace, and gratitude--even in the face of some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable. Read this remarkable memoir. It will lift up your heart with thankfulness and inspiration, just as Colleen has inspired countless everyday heroes who strive to make this world a better place.—Gail McGovern, President and CEO, American Red Cross
  • Gratitude in Motion is a powerful story of the triumph of one determined and inspiring soul. Colleen Kelly Alexander's vision to 'bring about more humanity and understanding' despite monumental obstacles gives hope to us all. Her story is the gift that the world needs so desperately right now.—Kate Cumbo, PhD, Director of Programs, PeaceJam Foundation

On Sale
Jan 16, 2018
Page Count
296 pages
Center Street

Colleen Kelly Alexander

About the Author

Colleen Kelly Alexander is a lifelong athlete and motivational speaker. With her indomitable spirit and amazing story of survival, Colleen teaches others how to aim higher, be stronger, and use adversity as a catalyst to make themselves and the world better. She was the executive director of the Common Ground Youth Center in Vermont for eight years, and a regional program manager for PeaceJam, where Nobel Peace Prize laureates mentor youth. She has also worked for, volunteered for, and is heavily involved with the Red Cross. She lives in a New England coastal town with her husband and their three dogs and cat.

Jenna Glatzer ( is the author or ghost-writer of twenty-nine books, including Celine Dion’s authorized biography and The Marilyn Monroe Treasures. She and her daughter live in New York.

Learn more about this author